By Nina Lakhani
Living near active oil and gas wells during pregnancy increases the risk of low-birthweight babies, especially in rural areas, according to the largest study of its kind.
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By Emily Holden
The Trump administration is diligently weakening US environment protections even amid a global pandemic, continuing its rollback as the November election approaches.
‘This Is About Who We’re Protecting’<p>Trump's deregulatory agenda has addressed some issues industry would rather were left alone. The agency is changing the way it calculates the benefits of mercury controls for power plants. Companies had already complied with the rule and most didn't want it changed. But the revision is meant to set a precedent for the government to ignore some positive health outcomes of regulation.</p><p>Trump's weakened standards often go against science too, critics say.</p><p>Last month, for example, the EPA decided not to tighten rules for soot pollution, refuting rebutting guidance from experts that more stringent standards would save lives. The EPA has also repopulated advisory boards with representatives from industry and conservative states and is trying to change what science it can consider when developing health protections.</p><p>If a Democrat takes the White House, it will take years to reverse some changes. Moving faster would require Democrats holding both chambers of Congress. Even then, industry would fight hard.</p><p>Christopher Cook, the environment chief for Boston, said Trump's efforts had been "incongruous with all the actions that major cities are taking."</p><p>"The thing I would ask most Americans to consider when they're supporting stronger regulation is that this isn't about what we're protecting against, this is about who we're protecting," Cook said, noting that places with more pollution are faring worse under the coronavirus pandemic.</p><p>"Covid has been a dry run for the climate crisis. We've seen the populations that Covid affects because it attacks the respiratory system. We can't continue with bad air in America."</p>
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Oscar Schwartz
Microsoft drew widespread praise in January this year after Brad Smith, the company's president, announced their climate "moonshot."
While other corporate giants, such as Amazon and Walmart, were pledging to go carbon neutral, Microsoft vowed to go carbon negative by 2030, meaning they would be removing more carbon from the atmosphere than they produced.
Protecting forests<p>To begin, Microsoft will focus on protecting forests and planting trees to capture carbon. This strategy has long been used to offset emissions, but Microsoft is hoping to improve their outcomes by <a href="https://news.mongabay.com/2020/02/success-of-microsofts-moonshot-climate-pledge-hinges-on-forest-conservation/" target="_blank">using</a> remote-sensing technology to accurately estimate the carbon storage potential of forests to ensure no major deforestation is occurring in their allotments. To achieve these goals, Microsoft will be partnering with Pachama, a Silicon Valley startup that will survey 60,000 hectares of rainforest in the Amazon, plus an additional 20,000 hectares across north-eastern states of the US for the company.</p><p>According to Kesley Perlman, a climate campaigner at the forest conservation NGO Fern, Microsoft's commitment to hi-tech reforestation is encouraging, but she stressed that conservation is a complex, multifaceted process that goes beyond technical issues. "It's not only about how much carbon a forest can hold but also who traditionally uses the forest, how they might be kept out, and how biodiversity will be prioritized," she said.</p>
Biomass energy carbon capture storage<p>Microsoft will initially focus on nature-based solutions to reduce their carbon footprint over the next five or so years. But in order to start drawing more carbon from the atmosphere than they emit by 2030, it will need to shift to technology-based solutions that can scale up and accelerate carbon removal.</p><p>To this end, Microsoft is betting on biomass energy carbon capture storage, otherwise known as BECCS, to transform how energy is generated. Instead of burning coal, a BECCS power plant burns biomass, like wood chips. The carbon produced when burning the biomass is captured before it is released into the atmosphere and then injected at a very high pressure into rock formations deep underground. Not only does this remove carbon from the natural cycle, the biomass absorbs CO2 as it grows.</p><p>A world powered by biofuel, however, raises two looming questions. First, scientists are not yet certain if biomass energy will be carbon neutral.</p><p>The second concern is that the transition from coal to biofuel would require setting aside vast tracts of arable land – some <a href="https://www.fern.org/fileadmin/uploads/fern/Documents/Fern%20BECCS%20briefing_0.pdf" target="_blank">estimates</a> say one to two times the size of India. According to climate campaigner Perlman this would mean that the energy industry would probably have to compete with food production in a world where 10 billion people will need to be fed, while vastly enlarging industrialized plantations and reducing biodiversity. "We would likely see massive land use change and massive private purchases of land, the knock on impacts of which could be quite dangerous," she said.</p>
Direct air capture<p>Perhaps the most futuristic of the technologies outlined in Microsoft's carbon negative plan is <a href="https://carbonengineering.com/our-technology/" target="_blank">direct </a><a href="https://carbonengineering.com/our-technology/" target="_blank">air </a><a href="https://carbonengineering.com/our-technology/" target="_blank">capture</a> (DAC). This involves machines that essentially function like highly efficient artificial trees, drawing existing carbon out of the air and transforming it into non-harmful carbon-based solids or gasses.</p><p>While the image of air-conditioner-like machines sucking carbon out of the air is captivating, capturing CO2 directly from the atmosphere <a href="https://www.vox.com/energy-and-environment/2018/6/14/17445622/direct-air-capture-air-to-fuels-carbon-dioxide-engineering" target="_blank">requires</a> a lot of energy and is very expensive. In 2011, extracting carbon from the air cost $600 a ton of CO2. In 2018, estimates <a href="https://www.technologyreview.com/s/611369/maybe-we-can-afford-to-suck-cosub2sub-out-of-the-sky-after-all/" target="_blank">brought</a> this down to anywhere between $94 to $232 a ton. But given that Microsoft expects to emit 16m metric tons of carbon this year, if they were to reach carbon zero using only DAC, their bill might cost as much as $3.5bn.</p><p>According to Lucas Joppa, chief environmental officer at Microsoft, a large part of the reason why carbon removal remains so expensive is because the markets around these technologies are still immature. The company's strategy over the coming decades is maturing these markets through intensive and directed investment. "We're making a bet on certain technologies that don't exist at the scale or price point we need them to," he said. "But if we want to get them, we need to start investing."<span></span></p><p>The company, he said, already has a model for raising funds internally to support climate innovation. In July 2012, Microsoft became one of the first companies to <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/microsoft-internal-carbon-fee" target="_blank">institute</a> an internal carbon price, charging different divisions in the business $15 a metric ton of carbon emitted. The funds raised were then used to pay for sustainability improvements, which helped the company achieve their goal of going carbon neutral.</p><p>Previously, this carbon price only extended over emissions Microsoft was directly responsible for. According to their new plan, in July this year Microsoft will extend this internal carbon price over emissions produced across direct and indirect emissions. The increased revenue raised from the expanded internal carbon tax, along with a $1bn climate innovation fund, will be used to invest in capture and removal technology. "What we're going to do is put this money in the market in a way that is highly additional," Joppa said. "This is how we're going to get nature-based solutions and tech solutions at a price point and scale we need."</p><p>Microsoft's plan for intensive investment in this industry is exciting for those working in the field. Klaus Lackner, a theoretical physicist working on DAC, has been arguing since the 1990s that carbon removal is the only feasible way to stop significant temperature rises. "We've shown that this method is technologically feasible, but nobody has wanted them," he said. "Microsoft have said 'we get it.' It will cost them money, but it will allow the technologies to come online and for the next company to follow their footsteps."</p><p>While the technologies that Microsoft are betting on are still in their nascent stages, in the past few years there has been some encouraging progress in the negative emissions industry. Lackner and Arizona State University recently signed a deal with Silicon Kingdom, an Irish-based company, to manufacture his carbon-suck machines. The plan is to install them on wind and solar farms, and then sell the captured carbon to beverage companies to make carbonated drinks. In the UK, Drax power plant, which was once among Europe's most polluting, <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/business/2020/feb/27/drax-power-plant-to-stop-burning-coal-with-loss-of-230-jobs" target="_blank">transitioned from coal to biofuel</a> this year.</p><p>But many attempts at scaling carbon negative projects have also failed. The Kemper Project in Mississippi, which was billed as America's flagship carbon capture project, was <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/mar/02/clean-coal-america-kemper-power-plant" target="_blank">abandoned</a> in 2017 – it was $5bn over budget, three years late and still not operational.</p>
Moral hazard<p>Given the not insignificant risk of failure, some <a href="http://smartstones.nl/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/Kevin-Anderson-2016.10.13-the-Trouble-with-Negative-Emissions-Science-2016.pdf" target="_blank">propose</a> that relying on nascent or future technology as a solution to the climate crisis represents a moral hazard – the promise of carbon removal functions as an incentive for governments and major polluters to not change their behavior now.</p><p>According to Chris Adams, a tech worker who organizes an <a href="http://climateaction.tech/" target="_blank">online community</a> of technology professionals agitating for climate action from within the industry, the fact that Microsoft is still partnering with big oil companies demonstrates the moral hazard in action. "They are protecting the fossil fuel industry from changing while the rest of the world will pay most from this gamble if it fails in the long term," he said.</p><p>Adams added that many of the encouraging ideas around carbon reduction in Microsoft's plan have come from internal organizing from concerned employees, but that this mostly goes unacknowledged in Microsoft's official vision. Emphasizing future technology while overlooking activism in the present, Adams said, represents a certain way of approaching problems that is typical of technology companies. "If you have spent the last 10 years amassing influence by approaching most problems with technology it's understandable you see all problems through this lens, particularly if you don't have to have conversations about power," he said.</p><p>When asked about this concern by the Guardian, Microsoft's Joppa responded that in the short term, the energy demands of a growing global population will probably still need a mix of renewable and traditional energy sources. By remaining in discourse with these industries, he said, Microsoft hopes to help them change and transition to a better model in the future. "It's extremely hard to lead if there's no one there to follow," he added.</p><p>As to whether the technology outlined in their plan will scale, he said there is inherent risk, but this is why they call it a "moonshot." "When it comes to our plan it's not like we've got it all figured out," he said. "We're just trying to do what the science says the whole world needs to do. There's really no other choice."</p>
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By Michael Mann
After years studying the climate, my work has brought me to Sydney where I'm studying the linkages between climate change and extreme weather events.
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By Pam Radtke Russell in New Orleans
Local TV weather forecasters have become foot soldiers in the war against climate misinformation. Over the past decade, a growing number of meteorologists and weathercasters have begun addressing the climate crisis either as part of their weather forecasts, or in separate, independent news reports to help their viewers understand what is happening and why it is important.
‘You have the chance to shift the public view a little’<h4> <a href="https://twitter.com/KeithCarson?ref_src=twsrc%5Egoogle%7Ctwcamp%5Eserp%7Ctwgr%5Eauthor" target="_blank">Keith Carson</a>, <a href="https://www.newscentermaine.com/" target="_blank">WLBZ/WCSH</a>, Maine</h4><p>At the beginning of his career, Carson wasn't fully onboard with the idea that climate crisis was occurring and it was caused by humans. Carson began working in the field in 2006. Today, though, he says: "Frankly it's getting harder and harder to deny it scientifically." And now he knows how easy it is now for anyone to twist facts and create even more divisiveness.</p><p>These days, Carson regularly shares information about the climate crisis and other scientific topics with viewers through a nightly science segment called "Brain Drops".</p><p>For Carson, the issue is bigger than just climate change. "If people are going to dismiss science and the scientific process, it opens the door for other regressions," in scientific thinking.</p><p>Carson talks about climate change with his viewers about once every two weeks. "I think it's important to do, but not to hammer it daily. It's against human nature to change minds, and hammering it home daily would make some people dig in more." He approaches the topic like many of his colleagues do, by simply presenting the facts about what is happening.</p><p>Weathercasters, he says, have a unique opportunity because they are an integral, well liked part of the community, "and you have the chance to shift opinion a little".</p><p>While Carson does get some pushback from viewers, most of those who comment on his climate reporting are not his viewers, he says.</p>
From stories on breweries to ranchers: find a way to relate<h4><a href="https://twitter.com/Elisa_Raffa?ref_src=twsrc%5Egoogle%7Ctwcamp%5Eserp%7Ctwgr%5Eauthor" target="_blank">Elisa Raffa</a>, of <a href="https://www.ozarksfirst.com/weather/" target="_blank">KOLR10/KOZL</a>, Springfield, Missouri</h4><p>Raffa, a self-described science geek, believes her job is to educate her viewers about how climate change will impact them. She's done stand-alone news segments about how climate change will impact fishing in local lakes, a local coffee shop and a local brewery. One piece detailed how ranchers must be more careful with their cattle as black vultures move into the region because of warming temperatures.</p><p>"It gets people to look at climate change outside of the political realm," she says.</p><p>Raffa is careful to ask objective questions about things such as precipitation and temperature, and rarely outwardly underscores climate change as the problem. Her sources usually do that themselves. That hits home with viewers who see climate change from a relatable perspective.</p><p>"Climate change will impact us in so many ways, and I love teaching my viewers and helping them learn how they can prepare and adapt and be more resilient," she said.</p><p>In addition to her special reports, Raffa talks about the climate crisis in subtle ways during her forecasts. She highlighted a recent uptick in morning high temperatures hoping to show her viewers that overnight temperatures are increasing.</p><p>"This is what I signed up for," she said. "This is a science issue. It's my duty to communicate this to the public. If I don't, who is going to?"</p>
‘I used to be more subtle … but now we see more effects’<h4><a href="https://twitter.com/jorgetweather?lang=en" target="_blank">Jorge Torres</a>, <a href="https://www.kob.com/kob-tv/jorge-torres/3075716/" target="_blank">KOB-TV</a>, Albuquerque, New Mexico</h4><p>Over his career, Torres, chief meteorologist at KOB, has become bolder in addressing climate change. "In the beginning I was more subtle, but as more and more facts become apparent, I am more open now saying this is human induced. For me the biggest aspect is carbon dioxide," he says. "We are seeing that increasing globally and we are seeing the effects locally."</p><p>Earlier this year, Torres did <a href="https://www.kob.com/albuquerque-news/4-investigates-the-future-of-water-in-new-mexico-/5449672/" target="_blank">an extensive news piece on the issue of water in New Mexico</a> and how smaller snow pack will impact the state's water supply. Temperatures are getting warmer and warmer as well, he says, a fact that he points out during his daily forecasts.</p><p>"Whenever the weather story allows me to say," something about the climate crisis, he does, but he ensures it is in the proper context.</p><p>The bottom line is that he wants viewers to be open-minded about it. "Don't just hear something and dismiss it."</p>
The forecaster quoting Bubba Gump<h4><a href="https://twitter.com/WGRZHeather?ref_src=twsrc%5Egoogle%7Ctwcamp%5Eserp%7Ctwgr%5Eauthor" target="_blank">Heather Waldman</a>, <a href="https://www.wgrz.com/" target="_blank">WGRZ</a>, Buffalo, New York</h4><p>As the trusted "station scientist", Waldman says that talking about the climate crisis is a natural fit for her and other weathercasters. "It fits in our identity."</p><p>Waldman and her station have unveiled a series of short, entertaining and informative videos called "the climate minute", that are online and are scheduled to run this week on TV.</p><p> Weather presenter Heather Waldman talks global heating in 'The Climate Minute' – video</p><p>The one-minute videos are time-consuming to produce because while Waldman uses information from Climate Matters, she also does her own research, reading IPCC and other reports.</p><p>She says she decided on short one-minute videos because she doesn't want to lose the audiences' attention.</p><p>"The audience isn't going to pay attention to anything for more than a couple of minutes and we use succinct, catchy images. The goal to find some sort of thing, where people say oh, this will have an impact – this is affecting me right now."</p><p>On an upcoming piece on how ocean acidification is affecting shrimp populations, she is using Bubba Gump shrimp quotes to keep it fun.</p><p>"Intrinsically we have the responsibility to present not just weather facts but climate facts – we don't want to pontificate, but we want to make them actionable and entertaining."</p>
By Natalie Hanman
Why are you publishing this book now?
I still feel that the way that we talk about climate change is too compartmentalised, too siloed from the other crises we face. A really strong theme running through the book is the links between it and the crisis of rising white supremacy, the various forms of nationalism and the fact that so many people are being forced from their homelands, and the war that is waged on our attention spans. These are intersecting and interconnecting crises and so the solutions have to be as well.
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By Oliver Milman
Two-thirds of Americans believe climate change is either a crisis or a serious problem, with a majority wanting immediate action to address global heating and its damaging consequences, major new polling has found.